Iranian filmmaker comes to Christchurch

His last film was banned in his home country of Iran, now he is making a film in Christchurch, reports Charlie Gates.

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian is in Christchurch for a month as part of the Vincent Ward Prize, a University of ...
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Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian is in Christchurch for a month as part of the Vincent Ward Prize, a University of Canterbury scholarship for visionary film directors.

What are the differences between making a film in Iran and making a film in New Zealand?

Celebrated Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian considers the question for a moment, then smiles and laughs.

In his home country, scripts have to be vetted and approved by a government panel before they can be filmed. Once they are made, the panel needs to grant permission for public screenings. Even then, if a film proves controversial, it can be banned.

I'm Not Angry has won awards at festivals around the world, but is banned in Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian's home ...
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I'm Not Angry has won awards at festivals around the world, but is banned in Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian's home country.

Dormishian would know about this process. His film I'm Not Angry has won awards at festivals around the world, but is banned in his home country.

"It is totally different here [in New Zealand]. It means you can concentrate on your script and your story because you don't have to deal with those other processes, and you can keep your energy for the film," he says.

Dormishian is in Christchurch for a month as part of the Vincent Ward Prize, a University of Canterbury scholarship for visionary film directors. The scholarship was awarded to the director at the Shanghai International Film Festival for his social realist film I'm Not Angry. He is making a new film about the Canterbury earthquakes during his time in the country.

His last film, I'm Not Angry, was about an Iranian student expelled from university for his political beliefs and activities. An edited version of the film was screened at Iran's biggest film festival in February last year, but was withdrawn from consideration for awards after a negative reaction from Iranian hardliners. It has been banned ever since.

Iran's ruling powers often oppress cultural dissent, but the country still has one of the liveliest film industries in the world.

In 2010, one of the country's most celebrated film directors, Jafar Panahi, was sentenced to six years imprisonment and a 20-year ban on making or directing any movies. While under house arrest Panahi made a film that was smuggled out of the country on a memory stick hidden in a birthday cake. This is not a film was screened at Cannes in 2011.

Dormishian hopes to one day screen I'm Not Angry in Iran again.

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"I am really sad, but I don't think that any film could be banned forever. I'm quite sure that all the films that have been banned in the past have been screened at some point. I have done all my best to screen my film in Iran and I will continue as the screening of my film in Iran is the most important thing for me."

The controversy surrounding the film caused problems during production of his latest movie, Lantouri, which was filmed in Iran this year and will be released next year.

"In Iranian cinema, we mostly work on real locations and some of the locations I needed for my film belonged some authorities and they weren't happy to give us access to those locations. But I managed despite all the difficulties to finish making my film. I had to stop filming until I could find the right locations.

"We have many good decent people in Iran who are keen for others to speak about the society and the social problems and then we have a small minority of people with a different opinion."

While in Christchurch, he is making a film about a boy caught up in the Canterbury earthquakes. He hopes the film, which is being made with Canterbury university students, will be one of three parts filmed in different countries that could make up a feature film.

"It is about a boy who has lost his parents in the earthquake but he is still obsessed with the earthquake. He cannot distance himself from the atmosphere and the experience of the earthquake. It is a very interesting new experience for me. I am working in a new environment, in a new country I haven't been to before and I'm working with a new language as well."

He was drawn to making a film about the earthquakes because of his desire to make films that engage with contemporary social issues.

"I think one of the most important issues in Christchurch now is the earthquake and the effect it has had on people.

"I am no stranger to earthquakes because we have had massive earthquakes in Iran. There have been two massive earthquakes in my lifetime in Iran and thousands of people have died in them. Perhaps one of the things people in Iran have in common with New Zealanders is we are both living above big fault lines.

"We are always waiting for a massive earthquake in Tehran. We hope it never happens because if it does there would not longer be any Tehran left."

He visited the Iranian city of Bam after the 2003 earthquake that killed 26,000 people.

"I saw total destruction. The earthquake was totally different. Here you see some places destroyed and others intact. But, in Bam, basically the whole city was destroyed."

The Christchurch film focuses on how the death toll in earthquakes is the responsibility of people, rather than the natural disaster.

"Making this film here is really important for me. I'm trying to convey a universal message.

"The message is that it is not the earthquakes that kill people, it is we as human beings that are responsible for the death and destruction."

He is moved by the sight of Christchurch's earthquake-damaged central city.

"It is moving to see some of those places and I hope I can communicate this feeling properly in this film. This film is also a kind of paying tribute to the victims of the earthquake in Christchurch."

He said New Zealand films were more imaginative, in contrast to the social realism of Iranian cinema.

"Iranian cinema is a social form of cinema about the problems and challenges we have in society. I always wondered why some New Zealand directors films are more imaginative rather than realistic.

"Now I can understand better why Peter Jackson and Vincent Ward's films are like they are. Some of the challenges people have in other countries are not present here. When people are not involved in those challenges and problems they are not struggling with them, your imagination becomes more active.

"They can make films and produce stories with their imagination and dreams."

But, no matter where he is making a film, Dormishian wants to tell human stories.

"I love cinema for the experiences I can get from making films and my main obsession is human beings.  "

"It doesn't make a difference if it is a human in New Zealand, Iran, Lebanon, Paris or the US. I want to make films about humans."

 

 - Stuff

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